Butterfly McQueen, an actress who wanted more
On this date we point out the birth of Butterfly McQueen in 1911. She was an African American actress who portrayed Scarlett O’Hara’s squeaky-voiced maid, Prissy in Gone With The Wind.
Thelma McQueen (her birth name) was the daughter of a stevedore and a domestic worker. She was an only child from Tampa, Florida and got the name Butterfly after appearing in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she danced in the Butterfly Ballet. Although Gone With The Wind went on to become a huge success, McQueen found it difficult finding work as an actress. She was often typecast in roles as maids and said, “I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business. But after I did the same thing over and over, I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid.”
McQueen could not attend Gone With The Wind’s premiere because it was held in a whites only theater, but she was a guest of honor at its 50th anniversary celebration in 1989. In 1975 at age 64 McQueen earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from New York’s City College. In 1980 she won an Emmy for her performance in a children’s production, The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid. Butterfly McQueen died from burns suffered in a fire at her home in Augusta, Georgia in 1996.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Today in American History